British folk-soul singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lianne La Havas closed out her UK headline tour in support of sophomore studio album Blood with the first of two massive shows at London’s Brixton Academy.
“I’m going to be honest with you ladies and gentlemen” she said, a grin stretching across her face, “I’m trying very hard to remain calm and it’s really tough, but I find that the singing helps!”, headlining the Brixton Academy definitely a milestone for any band or artist, especially one that grew up on it’ doorstep.
La Havas released her first single and subsequent debut album Is Your Love Big Enough? in 2012 to critical acclaim and commercial success, achieving Mercury Prize and Ivor Novello Best Album nominations.
Following the album’s subsequent tour, La Havas retreated to her mother’s homeland of Jamaica where she was inspired to write from her newly-discovered maternal roots. And while the material on Blood isn’t a complete gear-shift from Is Your Love Big Enough?, the inspiration gave the Streatham native a new spin for her material and has already achieved a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Appearing on a stage bedecked with her signature bird of paradise flowers in a metallic, sequined dress and glowing from the bright stage lights, she addressed her screaming crowd: “Brixton! London! It’s very good to see you”, before launching into the slow funk of Blood track Green & Gold which led straight into Is Your Love Big Enough?, driven by La Havas’ killer guitar licks.
She next headed into mellow and soulful debut album track Au Cinema, featuring an interlude verse of Pharrell Williams’ hit single Happy.
Taking time out to give some love to her hometown crowd and pay homage to her first time headlining the hallowed stage of the Brixton Academy she said “The first time I ever came to this place was in 2011, just before I went on to write the song that I’m about to play, but I feel like this place was partly responsible for the inspiration.”
“I believe that the Brixton Academy changed my life and London made my life” the former Paloma Faith backing singer continued, before launching into a quiet and peaceful solo rendition of No Room For Doubt.
“From Streatham to Jamaica with this one” she said, introducing new album track Midnight and tearing into a honey-slick guitar introduction, complete with harmonics. Tailoring the track to the venue, she slotted in the line “Living in Brixton, living in London” to cheers from her adoring audience.
She notably switched effortlessly between bass, acoustic, electric and jazz guitars throughout the set as well as taking breaks to focus solely on vocals.
Following a solo rendition of debut album track Age, where the beaming leading lady gave up vocals to the crowd for a time, her band returned as the 26-year-old eased into the genre-spanning Never Get Enough, the gentle classical guitar introduction stretching into a heavy indie rock chorus which in turn had La Havas switching to a retro microphone to achieve a vintage jazz vocal pastiche while the crowd attempted their very best hair-flailing head-banging.
The main set was closed with Blood track Tokyo, the gentle funk easing the set to a close. “Brixton Academy, London, my home, so I think that means you are all my family” she gushed.
Returning to the stage for a three-song encore, La Havas became tearful at the applause that greeted her. “It’s been a dream of mine forever” she said, “first of all to be a singer, and to do this as my life. But to play here, in my home, with all of my family watching, I can’t describe how good that feels” she continued, before launching into melancholy debut album track Gone, accompanied only by James Wyatt on keyboards.
Ghost was next before La Havas closed the night with heavy second single Forget, the condensation beginning to drip from the ornate walls of the art deco building. “Just know that I will never, ever, ever forget this” she said of her Brixton headline debut, and I’m sure she never will.
It was clear for all to see just how proud the 26-year-old La Havas was to be headlining the Brixton Academy, one of the largest and historic non-arena venues in her hometown, so close to where she grew up around Streatham and Tooting in South London. And she rightly deserves to be taking it on as she continues to climb, no doubt, to even grander stages. Hers is a unique sound that’s tough to categorise and one which needs to receive more of the recognition it deserves.
La Havas closes her run of UK headline shows with a second night at the Brixton Academy and then heads to the US before returning for more European shows in the spring including a slot at The Royal Albert Hall as part of the venue’s Albert Sessions.
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